Soft skills for product managers

Soft Skills For Product Managers

What Are the Most Important Soft Skills for Product Managers?

I think most of us intuitively understand that soft skills are important for product managers. But, given that, let’s drill down a bit. In fact, come to that, what are “soft skills” anyway? One definition is:

“Personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.”

From Lexico

(For more verbosity, check out the Wikipedia article on soft skills.)

Greg Prickril, my guest for episode 55’s, had an article last week called “Building The Perfect Product Manager.” He lays out a framework of four building blocks that contribute to effective product management.

  • Technical knowledge (architecture, technology trends, development methodologies)
  • Product management competency (discovery, product lifecycle, release planning, market research)
  • Domain expertise (self-explanatory)
  • Soft skills – time management, leadership, decision-making, negotiation, communication

I like that Greg included soft skills in this list – many descriptions of product management don’t include them. And I had already decided to do an episode on soft skills, so it was timely.

The Top 5 Most Important Soft Skills for Product Managers

Anyway, I used his article as the kick off point on this discussion of the most important soft skills for product managers. My Top 5 list is:

(The links are to various podcast episodes about these topics.) These soft skills were taken from this great visualization I found a few years ago. In this diagram, by the way, “PM” stands for Project Management – but there’s obviously a lot of overlap with our version of “PM.”

Essential soft skills: Leadership, Team Building, Motivation, Communication, Influencing, Decision Making, Political and Cultural Awareness, Negotiation, Trust Building, Conflict Management, Coaching

Three Things You Can Start Doing Today

  1. Familiarize yourself with the universe of soft skills. That’s the first step. There are a few different lists linked above. You can also refer to the list of characteristics I shared in the chapter “What Makes A Good Product Manager” in my book The Secret Product Manager Handbook).
  2. You should then do two assessments – what soft skills are most important in your situation? And which ones are you strong in? I would focus on perhaps the top five needed for your situation. Assess yourself on these skills – which are you strong in, which could you be stronger in? For example, if you determine that “political and cultural awareness” is an important soft skill for your current situation, but you aren’t as strong at “politics” as you need to be, then go do some woodshedding. Get a book on how to operate politically, or find an online course, or even just do some Googling and learn some of the basic techniques.
    1. Another way to assess yourself that’s easy and inexpensive and fairly effective is the Clifton Strengthsfinder. The Clifton Strengths don’t map precisely to the lists of soft skills, but they are definitely related, and knowing your strengths will give you insights in how to apply and improve your soft skills.
    2. I recommend going out and buying the book – you can buy it on Amazon for your Kindle if you like – and doing the test. And then I’d recommend, once you find your top strengths, listen to Lisa Cummings’ Lead Through Strengths podcast episodes about “Career Branding When Your Strength is X” for your particular strengths.
  3. Congratulations – you know where you are: You know what soft skills are important for your job, and you know your strengths! Now you should ride that pony hard! For soft skills in which you are already strong, make sure you’re taking advantage of opportunities – or even creating opportunities – to use them. After all, your strengths are your strengths – in some real sense they are why you are here, they are most likely part of the selection criteria that got you where you are today.

Other Links Mentioned In The Episode

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